From the oasis of the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to the verdant banks of the Chobe River, Botswana boasts a rich diversity of birdlife over a kaleidoscope of vast and starkly different landscapes. Plus the bonus of other wildlife.By Andrew de Blocq, the Avitourism Project Manager at BirdLife South Africa.
THE FABLED FLAMINGOS OF NATA
The flamingos descend in tens of thousands to breed. Constructing mud tower nests for egg-laying, they turn the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans of the Nata Bird Sanctuary into a fantastic flamboyance of pink. Welcome to one of only four breeding sites in Africa for Greater and Lesser Flamingos (the others being Lake Natron in Kenya, Etosha Pan in Namibia, and Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, South Africa).
Nata Bird Sanctuary is a community-run reserve on the eastern tip of the Makgadikgadi Pans and forms part of the Important Bird Area of the same name. Water levels are unpredictable, with inputs from local rainfall and the Nata River system inflows. However, this Kalahari landscape is transformed with seasonal flooding when conditions are just right. A 2009 census counted over 75000 Lesser Flamingos alone – twenty percent higher than the estimated total Southern African population at the time.
With or without flamingos, a visit to Nata Bird Sanctuary still proffers prolific birdlife, particularly waterbirds such as Great White and Pink-backed Pelicans, Goliath Heron, African Spoonbills, and a range of ducks and teals around the heads of the Nata and Boteti Rivers.
The raised wooden platform provides an excellent lookout point to treasure this spectacle. Grassland and savanna areas host Kalahari representatives, such as the cacophonous Northern Black Korhaan, Red-necked Falcon, and Common Ostrich, while Blue Wildebeest, Aardwolf and Bat-eared Foxes are viewable too.
As twilight descends, the road to dinner might bear Marsh Owls and several nightjars on the way back to Nata Lodge, which sits just 15 minutes from the Bird Sanctuary.
Come morning, you’ll soon realise why it’s considered one of the best spots to see Meyer’s Parrots. Still, a stroll around the immaculate grounds of Nata Lodge reveals much more besides. Tropical Boubous, Arrow-marked and Southern Pied Babblers, Red-billed Firefinches and Terrestrial Brownbuls. It is not uncommon for the resident Gabar Goshawk to flush the many African Red-eyed Bulbuls and Grey Go-away Birds from the feeding station within the lodge gardens during breakfast.
While Nata Lodge and the Makgadikgadi Pans make a vibrant oasis in an otherwise desolate landscape, the Chobe region is a veritable Garden of Eden just a few hours’ drive north.
With incredible wildlife and birding opportunities on-site, Chobe Safari Lodge makes an excellent base. For starters, the Collared Palm Thrush and Northern Grey-headed Sparrow (two highly sought-after species for Southern African birders) are easily found on the grounds with the former associating closely with White-browed Robin-Chats and Swamp Boubous.
The lodge also organises guided activities into the adjacent national park making your trip hassle-free. Between catching tiger fish and enjoying G&T sundowners on the boat cruise, one can also appreciate Collared and Rock Pratincoles flocks, family groups of African Skimmers, well-camouflaged Water Thick-knees, and White-crowned Lapwings along the banks. Western Cattle Egrets and African Jacanas hang out alongside elephants foraging neck-deep in the flooded grasses, waiting for their cumbersome movements to flush out their insect foods.
The white head and breast of African Fish Eagles are easily picked out from the larger trees punctuating the shoreline. Still, one must be careful to check for other larger raptors on the wing as Martial, and Western Banded Snake Eagles occur as well as larger vultures, such as the Lappet-faced and White-headed.
Keep an eye open for various specials during game drives into Chobe National Park. Racket-tailed Rollers inhabit the teak woodlands and Three-banded Courses enjoy the broad-leafed woodlands, while Yellow-throated Sandgrouse prefers the black cotton soils. Other attractive localised residents include Brown Firefinch and Copper Sunbird. Other local gems like Broad-tailed Paradise Whydah, Red-headed Quelea, Rock Pratincoles and Pennant-winged Nightjars frequent the area in summer.
Few places on the continent can rival the spectacle, abundance, and diversity that Botswana can deliver. Lucky for South African birders, both Nata and Chobe sit within easy (and affordable) reach.
FIND A BIRDWATCHER’S PARADISE AT NATA LODGE
Nata Lodge is an ideal overnight oasis on your way to Chobe Safari Lodge. Explore the Nata Bird Sanctuary, sleep soundly and enjoy a hearty breakfast before hitting Kasane.
Nata Lodge also offers tented accommodation set on raised wooden decks nestled under the many beautiful Marula trees. Each one is equipped with twin beds, an en-suite bathroom and a romantic outdoor shower.
ENJOY THE RIVERFRONT ROOMS AT CHOBE SAFARI LODGE
The Safari Rooms at Chobe Safari Lodge offer every comfort and have views of the lush lawns that roll into the gorgeous Chobe River.